Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interview with ConTessa organizer Stacy Dellorfano

by Randy

Howdy, gamers! Over the last couple weeks, I have followed the progress of really neat gaming convention called ConTessa, which will be happening June 21st-24th. The gaming convention is online and free. I decided to reach out to the organizer, Stacy Dellorfano, and see what it's all about. Stacy was very kind and answered a few questions for me.

Growing Up Gamers: Let's start with ConTessa. So, what is ConTessa?

Stacy Dellorfano: ConTessa is a four-day online gaming convention put on exclusively by women, but open to anyone to attend. We're gathering on Google+, where we'll be using Hangouts On Air to broadcast all of our games and panels to anyone that wants to watch. As of right now, we have 33 events registered for the four day run, and registration is still open until June 17th, so I expect to see even more!

GUG: What was your inspiration for doing ConTessa? 

SD: I first came up with the idea for ConTessa when I forced myself to go on a Social Media diet over the holidays when visiting family and friends out of state. I found that while there were many excellent advantages to being a part of the overall Google+ tabletop gaming community, there was also a great deal of snark, negativity, and meanness - especially when discussing such emotionally charged topics as women in gaming. I engaged in many of those debates and conversations, and frequently felt myself coming away disappointed with the tone and caliber of the conversations. To further exacerbate the problem, I also discovered that after gaining a reputation for being someone who talks about those issues, those were the only issues I was ever asked to talk about. 

It was frustrating, and I kept going back to the idea that what we're really fighting for is the ability to play games, and we often spend so much time fighting that we don't get a lot of chance to play the games. Plus, it can be exhausting to be a woman in the land of tabletop gaming always expected to have an opinion on everything "as a woman" rather than "as a gamer". As I was detoxing from all the social media negativity, and having a lot of fun playing games with our friends in the flesh, it dawned on me that I probably wasn't alone no matter how lonely I felt. So, I whipped up a first draft of what ConTessa could be, which unfortunately reflected a lot of my own bitterness and caused another crapstorm of negativity. 

Since that initial draft, there have been a lot of changes primarily in tone and how I choose to broach the subject, but the core message is there. We're here to game and talk about gaming, and nothing else. There's no set agenda, no political bias or motivation ... ConTessa is just here to provide a space where women can be celebrated and highlighted as gamers first and foremost. 

GUG: Safe spaces are important. Putting together a conference seems like a big undertaking. What was that experience like? I understand it's still unfolding, but what are some of the challenges you have encountered?

SD: I had no idea what I was doing when I started. None, and I tried not to go into it with any preconceived notions on how things like this should be done. If you've watched/listen to/read Neil Gaiman's Keynote Address going around entitled 'Make Good Art', you can kind see my general approach to all my projects. I had no idea how to create an online convention, or any convention for that matter. I didn't know what the rules are, what the limitations are, or what the impossibilities are, and I'm a huge fan of dreaming as big as you can and then paring things down to reality as you start hitting deadlines, so I had a huge dream and I went about trying to figure out how to do that. 

I've been working on ConTessa for about six months. At first, I thought I'd have a whole fleet of volunteers, and some showed up initially, but I quickly found that I had a huge disadvantage because I had no idea what needed to be done, so I had no idea how to delegate these things. So, the volunteers went on hold and I put my head down and started plugging away at what I wanted to do, seeing what worked and what didn't work and making adjustments in-flight. 

I think the biggest challenge was actually in creating a fairly simple registration system for creating events that anyone can use and a web site with a listing of events that show up in the time zone of the person viewing them rather than the timezone of the person who created them. It took me close to a month to put together all of the pieces just for that tiny little piece, but it's had an enormous impact on the convention since everyone is joining in their pajamas at whatever time works best for them. Getting everyone in the same place at the same time when you're running a convention that is truly worldwide can be tricky, and I knew it would help the convention a lot - especially in bringing new people to Google+ - if I could figure that bit out. 

Beyond that, it's just been a matter of getting the word out, maintaining a consistent message, not boring community members or page followers with dull content, and lining up sponsors willing to give away their PDFs for prizes. A lot of work and organization, but it's very much been worth the work. 

GUG: We're definitely impressed with what we see! Online cons seem to be picking up steam. Aethercon happened last year, and is happening again this year, for instance. Why online? What do you see as the benefits of doing this online?

SD: The benefits are enormous. First, you don't have to convince people to spend a lot of extra money and take a lot of extra time out to travel to the convention, so we have a truly world-wide audience and world-wide convention. This brings a lot of new ideas and styles and lets people who are in places where there aren't many conventions have the fun experience of going to a convention. Second, the barrier for entry is quite low being a free convention online. I don't have to secure money to rent out a hotel or other convention venue, and since we're using all free services provided by Google+, we can keep the barrier of entry very low to get the maximum amount of involvement - even by gamers who may may not make gaming their full-time hobby. Third, because all of the panels and games are recorded via on air hangouts and placed on YouTube, you don't have to be present to enjoy the panel. Missing a panel just means that you watch it later when you have a little more time. 

I'm sure there are a ton of other benefits, as well, and they're a big reason for the 'Why'. We'd have to achieve a much larger audience to fill a physical venue, but here even if we only had ten convention attendees, it would still be worthwhile. Of course, we have MANY more than ten... :) 

GUG: Is your vision to make this an ongoing thing? If things go well, should we expect a ConTessa 2014? And do you see there ever being a physical gathering?

SD: I've already started thinking about what I'd do differently and how I want to expand for the 2014 ConTessa. I'm pretty sure we won't have it in the summer, though. It's a period of time when a lot of people go on vacation, and some of my favorite personalities won't be able to attend because of that. Next year, we'll likely aim for sometime in the spring. I hope by then that we'll have added a whole lot of new stuff, and since it'll be the second year I'll have a better idea of what needs to get done when, so delegating responsibilities will be much easier and more likely. 

As for a physical gathering ... I've considered it, but I'm not sure I want to go down that route. We'll have to see how things go. :) 

GUG: As an attendee of ConTessa, what can I expect? What sort of experience do you hope to deliver? And what should I not expect?

SD: You can expect days and nights packed with games and panels meant to get and keep you excited about gaming. We've got panels broaching many subjects, and games that span a variety of systems - many of which were actually created by the women running them! We're hoping for four days of non-stop fun, including some of the more standard trappings of conventions - door prizes, contests, and free stuff! 

You should expect some new experiences. Many attendees have told me that they've never had a woman as a GM before, and they're excited to experience that. Plus, the events have come out with strong gender parity, so you'll get to enjoy games where the male/female ratio is about 1/2 and 1/2. Not to mention the chance to meet some new people. I've already made several new friends and networking opportunities during the whole process, and I've seen women get together and network with each other totally spontaneously, which is pretty awesome. A lot of us have experienced what it's like to be the Only Woman in the Room, and now we're getting to experience what it's like to be amongst a good mix of women and men. 

What you shouldn't expect is a feminist convention. While many of us would describe ourselves as feminists, this isn't the venue for discussing those sorts of things. Despite what some have suggested, that in and of itself is not a political comment on feminism, feminist critique, feminist discussion, or anything along those lines. Even the most dedicated feminist warrior needs a break to recharge her batteries every once in a while, and ConTessa offers that oasis, along with a cool drink and a whole lot of gaming fun. 

Ultimately, though, I've done my best to allow ConTessa to mean different things to different people. I've read a range of opinions on why ConTessa is important to various people for various reasons, and that's a wonderful thing. 

GUG: Great answer! So, what are your favorite games to play? What do you find on your table most?

SD: I started my gaming career on the floor of the band room at lunch in High School, playing with my friends. I was the one who would blow her whole paycheck on gaming books or Magic cards, then run back home and run a game for her five closest friends having only glanced through the books once. I cut my teeth on 2nd edition AD&D, then in the middish 90s, got all caught up in Vampire LARPs and White Wolf games. 

I currently run a new World of Darkness Changeling: The Lost game via hangouts weekly, play in a Swords & Wizardry game, and a Changeling game, and a 1:1 game that a friend of mine is writing. I go back and forth and really love lots of variety in my gaming. For the foreseeable future, after ConTessa, I'll be putting a lot of my energy into writing my own game called Precious Dark, which I'm debuting with Alpha Playtests at ConTessa.

GUG: What advice can you offer for people who would like to create an online gathering? Any wisdom to impart on those who want to create online events? 

SD: Decide what you want your online event to accomplish first, then work towards relentlessly towards completing that goal. A big goal of ConTessa was to inject some fresh blood by getting new people onto Google+ gaming via hangout, so our website and registration system were created to take down the barriers that learning a new online service generates and making sure all of our events were displayed both on the website and within Google+. Your event likely will have different goals, but decide what they are early because that will inform what you need to do in order to accomplish your goals. 

Grow a thick skin. There's always some uninformed person on the internet ready to tell you that you won't have any success. Don't let that get to you. Who cares what they think. Shut them up by making the most awesome event ever. It's the equivalent of pointing at the scoreboard when the rival team is trying to trash talk you. People who say these things are seldom people who actually do anything, so as a doer you're already doing more than they could ever do. 

Make great big goals that you'll likely never complete and just complete as many of them as you can. I had dreams of a Vendor Hall that would aggregate the listings of several geeky crafters, allowing them to display their merchandise on ConTessa and then when the user clicks through, they go to the original point of sale, where they can purchase the item. I ran out of time to make that an actual reality, but I'm glad I dreamed big when it came to that because now I have something to work towards for next year. Plus, you never know what you might actually be able to get done! A lot of the promotions, contests, and door prizes came from these big and grand ideas that seemed impossible at the start. The reverse of that, of course, is that you're going to have to let go of some of your favorite ideas in order to complete your project, so don't hug those big ideas TOO tightly. 

Listen to what your detractors are saying, but don't let them rule you. This goes along with growing a thick skin, but a little differently. It can be difficult to swallow something a detractor says, but there may be a kernel of truth in there. Do your best to figure out what that person is really saying and ignore the rest. 

GUG: Thank you so much, Stacy!


Well, that was the interview! I'm pretty excited for this convention, and I'm hoping to make a couple of the panels. I encourage you to pop over to and check out the ConTessa site. If you're super excited and want to get more involved, there's still time to register your own events; the deadline is Monday, June 17th. Stacy can be found on Twitter at @StacyRex and the official Twitter feed for ConTessa is @ConTessaOnline

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Interview with Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia designer Jamey Stegmaier!

by Randy

Hello, gamers! We have a treat today. We had an interview with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. Jamey is the designer of Viticulture and Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia, and you may have seen the previous interview with him over at the Escapade Games blog here. As I am writing this, he is in the last few days of the Kickstarter campaign for Euphoria, and he was nice enough to answer a few questions for us about Euphoria and Viticulture.

Growing Up Gamers: I'm excited to talk to you about Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia, but I want to back up a little and talk about Viticulture, your first game. You really nailed production on that one, and did a phenomenal job delivering. How did you do that, and what advice can you offer for other designers' freshman attempts? Perhaps I should add "aside from the wealth of information in the Kickstarter Lessons column on the Stonemaier Games website". :)

Jamey Stegmaier: Thank you so much! I’m glad you’re pleased with the production quality. I have to give credit to my graphic designer (Christine Bielke), my artists (Beth Sobel and Jacqui Davis), and Panda Game Manufacturing (Chris Matthew is amazingly responsive). The combination of those four parties created the game you see today. So my advice to other publishing startups is: Hire talented professionals and manufacturers. This is not a place to cut costs. This is not the time to have a friend do your graphic design or art for free. If they’re good enough to do your graphic design or art, you’ll know it because they’ll charge you. Also, I’m sure there are some other great manufacturers out there, but I could not be happier with Panda. They are consummate professionals every step of the way.

GUG: Viticulture looks amazing, by the way! Looking at the game board and player boards for Viticulture, I noticed that that they are double-sided. One side has detailed descriptions, and the other side is more minimalist and lets the art stand out. What led to the decision to make them this way?

JS: When I got the board and player mat art from Jacqui, I was swept away into Tuscany. And then we covered both with graphic design, and I was still swept away, but not quite as much. So given the marginal cost to make the mats and boards double-sided (why have one side when you can have two?), I decided to have one side of the mat with as few words and design elements as possible.

GUG: Good call! In terms of number of players, 2-6 players is quite a range. I've seen quite a few games that indicated that they played with this range, but it often seems that playing with 2 players or 5-6 players can be clunky or frustrating. Do you feel that you have avoided this with Viticulture and Euphoria? Do you feel there is an optimal number of players for the games?

JS: I’m a big fan of games that pull off that range. I want games that I can play with my girlfriend (who is currently imaginary, but it’s feasible she could exist in the future) or two other couples. In my games, I try to break down turns into single choices. Many worker-placement games let players use all of their workers each turn, which can lead to some interesting decisions, but it also means that you might be waiting a really long time between turns. In Viticulture and Euphoria, your turn consists of placing exactly 1 worker on the board. That keeps things moving along. Also, in Euphoria, if a worker occupies a spot on the board that you want, you can often place your worker on that spot and “bump” the other worker back to its owner. Thus the more players, the more bumping occurs, and the game moves quite quickly.

As for optimal numbers, based on the way it scales, Viticulture is a little looser and forgiving at 3 or 5 players. I would slightly lean towards those numbers, but I like tight games that make me think on my feet. Time will tell which number I prefer for Euphoria. So far I enjoy it with any number of players.

GUG: Are there any mechanical similarities between Euphoria and Viticulture? Was it easy to transition between working on the two games?

JS: Both are worker-placement games, but that’s where the similarities end. The games have very different mechanics, starting with Euphoria using dice as the workers. That was one of the first elements I incorporated into Euphoria, and it set it apart from Viticulture from day one and helped with the transition. Viticulture had more of an indirect influence on Euphoria in that after the Viticulture campaign, I wanted to play more board games. I wasn’t playing enough. So I started playing a lot more games, and it was tough for those games not to influence Euphoria. I played 7 Wonders and suddenly Euphoria was a drafting game. I played Belfort and suddenly Euphoria had a hexagon-shaped board with area control. I played Tzolk’in and suddenly Euphoria had a tech track. Fortunately I was able to distance myself from those games to make something unique and new. I wonder if other designers run into this—you play a game you love, and you want to make your version of it.

GUG: In all honesty, we have a new favorite mechanic every week; it's not just you! Aside from your own games, what games end up on your table most often? And what are your current top three favorite games?

JS: I’ll leave Viticulture and Euphoria out of this answer, because those are the games I’ve played the most. In the last few months, 7 Wonders has probably hit the table the most. My current top 3 are: Tzolk’in, Libertalia, and Agricola. But there are a lot of games up there near that top 3. Some of the games I’ve played quite a bit through the ages are Settlers, Dominion, poker, and Magic. I’m sure those four continue to influence me even if I don’t realize it.

GUG: How did you decide on the art and style? I really like the 1920's Art Deco style in Euphoria. What did your collaboration with the artist look like?

JS: Jacqui Davis is such a pleasure to work with, and her visual talents are truly amazing. She and I talked about the look of the game early on in the process, and after we were on the same page, I would send her the story behind the world, the markets, and the recruits, and se would take it from there. Sometimes I had a specific detail to mention, but usually I tried to give Jacqui complete creative freedom. She knows what she’s doing better than I do.

GUG: We love the work of Jacqui Davis! She has created some aweome pieces for Storm Hollow: over 100 at last count! What drew you to the dystopia theme? What dystopian sources most inspired you? And what came first when designing Euphoria: mechanics, or theme?

JS: I’ve been a big fan of dystopian literature and movies for a long time. When I started brainstorming for the project, I made a long list of my favorite dystopian works…it’s a long list. But a select few of my favorites are Ready Player One, Children of Men, The Matrix, and Oryx and Crake. Although Euphoria has a story of its own, there are lots of winks to other dystopian works in the game.

In the design process, theme came first, but each thematic element was paired with a mechanic after a brainstorming session. I made a list of the core elements of dystopian fiction, and those elements inspired the mechanics. Of course, the mechanics changed quite a bit over time, but by that point I had a different goal in mind: fun. Theme and mechanics are so important, but if they don’t translate into fun, they don’t mean anything.

GUG: Are you finding that it is easier to run a Kickstarter campaign the second time around? What would you say has been the biggest change between the campaign for Viticulture and the campaign for Euphoria?

JS: I wouldn’t use the word “easier.” :) I was more prepared this time, but it’s still a learning process every time. Plus, the scope of Euphoria and the speed at which we funded put this project in a whole different category than Viticulture (Viticulture had 942 backers; Euphoria has over 3000 as I write this. Viticulture funded on Day 17; Euphoria funded after 1 hour). I thought I might sleep more during the Euphoria campaign, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s a 60-70 week job in addition to my day job.

The biggest change between the two campaigns is something I didn’t expect and something I probably won’t do again. Because Viticulture was released to the world during the Euphoria campaign, there has been an incredible amount of enthusiasm for it. The question I got asked the most during Week 1 was: When are you going to add Viticulture reward levels? I listen to my backers, so I added Viticulture levels, but it’s always felt a little odd to me, because Viticulture is a completely different game than Euphoria. So there was a period during the project when there was a lot more attention on Viticulture than Euphoria. In the future I’d like to keep our games completely separate.

The plus side to all this is that we’ve completely sold out of Viticulture, so we’re considering a second print run.

GUG: Lastly, I wanted to ask about playtesting. How much playtesting went into Viticulture? And how did the playtesting process evolve between Viticulture and Euphoria?

JS: Great question, because this was a big difference between the two. Hardly any blind playtesting went into Viticulture before the project began. Alan and I tested it a ton, but I don’t think we realized the value of blind playtesting at that point. Thankfully, many backers became invested in the game during the Kickstarter project, so we had an unexpected outpouring of blind playtesting that really helped the project.

I learned my lesson for Euphoria, and I now had access to a ton of amazing, insightful gamers. So Euphoria went through a gauntlet of blind playtesting by 60+ people around the world while Alan and I continued to playtest it. We made the PnP (print and play) accessible to any backer during the project, so many more people have continued to blind-playtest it during the campaign. I would say that we easily have over 100 playtesters at this point, if not more. They are an amazing asset, and I can’t think them enough for the ink, sweat, time, and effort they put into helping us build a better dystopia.


What a guy, eh? We're really happy Jamey took the time to talk to us. He's a great guy, and we're happy to see his project doing so well. Please pop over and check it out while there's still time!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Our Magic Gathering: Dragon's Maze Edition!

by Angie

I’m a lucky lady in that my birthday corresponds with the spring Magic: The Gathering set release. This year, the prerelease parties for Dragon's Maze, the third set in the Return to Ravnica block, looked to be a really exciting format. I was really bummed that I wasn’t able to make the Dragon’s Maze prerelease because I was in the hospital, so my wonderful husband Randy got the idea to throw our own Dragon's Maze release party for my birthday! 

For the first two sets of the block (Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash), players would choose one of the 5 guilds in the set and receive a special guild booster pack that contained only cards affiliated with the chosen guild, and combine those with cards from booster packs from that set. Randy and I were lucky enough to be able to play in a midnight prerelease for Gatecrash and has a blast playing as agents of the secretive House Dimir. Interestingly, we both pulled a copy of the Dimir Guild Leader, Lazav, which was super fun to play with!

Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, guild leader of House Dimir. (Card art by David Rapoza)

For the Dragon's Maze prereleases, player were able to chose their favorite guild to champion, and then would get a special booster pack of cards tailored to that guild. Each guild was paired with a secret ally that shared a color, and players would receive a guild booster for their secondary guild as well. So if you picked Selesnya from the return to Ravnica set, you could be paired with Gruul, Simic, Orzhov, or Boros from Gatecrash. After receiving two guild affiliated packs, each player would then get 4 Dragon's Maze boosters, which contained cards from all 10 guilds, and then combine all those cards together and build a 40-card deck to play.

Here's a step-by-step rundown of how we attempted to recreate that experience in our own game room!

40 packs of Dragon's Maze!

Step 1:Get supplies

First off Randy preordered a box of Dragon’s Maze at our local card shop, to be picked on release day. A bunch of my friends and family chipped in on this as a joint birthday present, which was an amazing surprise.  I’d like to give out a special thanks to a great local game shop, Addictive Behaviors  because not only did they send Randy home with a free birthday pack for me, when they found out what we were planning to do with our 40 packs of Dragons Maze, they gave him 10 copies each of the foil Maze’s End promo card and the foil promo Plains from the prerelease to give to all our friends that were coming to play!  (Thanks guys! You’re awesome!!!!)

10 each of foil promo Plains and Maze's End!

 Step 2: Invite friends

We ended up with a really diverse set of players, which made the experience that much more fun. I hadn’t planned on letting my 7 year old daughter play (despite her pleas to join in) because it was going to be a late night event and I didn’t think she was ready to play Magic all night with the grown-ups, but when there ended up being 1 spot available she lucked out and leaped at the chance to champion Rakdos! (Spoiler alert: she did fantastic!) Everyone had some level of experience playing Magic; but it ranged from Katie, who hadn’t played with anyone but her parents, to a friend who hadn’t played the game since Alpha, to a couple guys who came to the event straight from Friday Night Magic. Most of us are casual players, some who play once every few years, to some who play Commander as often as possible. In total we had 5 male and 5 female players, ages ranging from 7 to 37 years old, and Randy and I were the only couple. I’m saying this just to point out that it wasn’t a bunch of women dragged along to play by their boyfriends, as is often implied. These were awesome Magic playing women who were excited to sling some spells! Several of the players left their husbands/wives/partner home with the kids to come play into the wee hours of the night. 

Here's the remaining players at about 3am, from left (back row) JT, me (Angie), Ty, Julian (front row) Katie, Unna, Tim. Not pictured is Jess, Sara-Jessyca, and Randy.

 Step 3: Make a plan

Before the party I did a lot of prep work to get things just right. First of all I searched online to find out what the contents of the Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash guild pack were. I figured the collective fan base of Magic players online would have complied a list somewhere, and I was happy to find this spreadsheet from a reddit post. I decided to use that list and make a primary and secondary pack for each guild using the cards I had available. Since we had so much fun championing Dimir at the Gatecrash prerelease and actually fielding the guild leader in our matches, we decided to make sure our Dragon's Maze event offered every player the chance to have their chosen guild leader make an appearance. From opening packs, I owned copies of 6 of the guild leaders already, so we went out and purchased the remaining 4 (Obzedat, Aurelia, Borborygmos, and Rakdos). 
Ok, maybe I just REALLY wanted to play with Obzedat, Ghost Council. They're here, they're gone. It's just so... haunting!

Step 4: Build Primary Guild Packs

 Using the spreadsheet of pack contents, I spent a few days sorting cards and put together the packs containing each guild leader. In order to really theme up the guild packs we decided to include the guild charm and keyrune into each pack as part of a special "bonus pack". Then, to aid along some of the less experienced players with easy mana fixing and really make sure everyone could play their chosen guild, I added the bounceland and signet for each guild from the original Ravnica block to the bonus packs. We waivered about including out of block cards, but in the end decided to go with thematic and fun. So in addition to the guild leader, guildgate, and 13 other guild affiliated cards, each payer also got a charm, keyrune, signet, and bounceland for their chosen guild, for a total of 19 cards.

Which of these powerful creatures would you align yourself with??

Step 5: Build Secondary Guild Pack. 

For the secret ally packs, I went down the same guild pack list for each guild and selected the first pack that met the following criteria: I owned the rares and all three uncommon for, and didn’t contain a keyrune. I did this because I didn’t want to buy any more cards and I didn’t want to introduce personal bias into the packs (by picking rares I especially liked, etc). The reason I excluded lists with keyrunes is because I also made a special “bonus pack” for the secret ally packs. These bonus packs contained the keyrune, bounceland, and signet, but not the charms this time. Again, I was looking to make a smooth playing experience for players of all skill level, enable good three color decks, and incentivize people to play their chosen guild and ally. You’ll see why when we get to scoring! Secondary guild packs had 14 guild affiliated cards, a guildgate, Keyrune, Signet, and Bounceland for a total of 18 cards.

 Step 6: Decide on "Secret Allies"

We used a simple randomizer app.... scraps of paper :)

 So, with primary and secondary guild packs made up, I set about matching up guilds. For the pairings, we mostly did them randomly (following the “shares a color, not from the same set” guidelines from the official prerelease) but did make a couple alterations to balance out the color pairings so it wasn’t the same guilds matched twice, ie Selesnya-Orzhov and Orzhov-Selesnya. I also made one switch which eliminated the two Naya (Red, Green, White) pairings and turned them into two other 3 color pairings. I did this because I had read a lot of comments about how Naya-Aggro was a dominant strategy at some of the preleases, and I was looking to make as fair a playing field as possible for maximum fun across skill levels. There was nothing stopping folks from playing that build, I just didn’t want to intentionally push a couple players into what was *possibly* the strongest pairing. 

An example spread of primary and secondary guild packs and bonus cards (Golgari-Orzhov)

Step 7:  Make Deck Boxes

Just to make it extra cool, I made deck boxes for each pairing using boxes from previous fatpacks and stickers from Return to Ravnica Holiday Gift Box. I  put stickers for the primary and secondary guild, plus the symbol for the third guild that was formed from the 3 color pair. I  wanted each player to be able to quickly identify their primary guild, secondary ally, and the third guild made up in the three color pairings, which we’re dubbing the “support guild”. The support guild didn’t get any Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash cards, or any special bonus keyrunes, guildgates, signets and bouncelands, but it was a color pair that a player could easily add Dragons Maze cards (which contained all ten guilds) without needing any other colors. Also, the support guild came up in our scoring system, so it was useful to be able to easily identify. Once the boxes were stickered up, we put the primary and secondary guild packs inside, and put 4 Dragon's Maze booster packs with each box.

Deck boxes loaded up with guild packs!

 Step 8: Pick Tournament Structure

 We wanted to have some kind of fun tournament feel to the event, but didn't want to make it too competitive since the point of the party was just to have some fun playing Magic. We decided our scoring would be based on the guilds each player was championing, The system we came up with was simple and fun:  Each time a player wins a match they earn 3 points for their primary guild, 2 for their secondary guild, and 1 for the support guild. It didn't matter what colors the players actually ended up playing, just the guild they chose to champion. We wanted a fun“competition” of sorts (like the Implicit Maze from the official prerelease) where players could work to champion their guilds, rather than a tournament to decide who was the best player or who made the best deck. With this scoring method decided on, we made a scoreboard for the tournament, listing each guild down the left and rounds across the top.

The Guilds listed on our handy-dandy hanging gameroom scoreboard
Step 9: Chose Your Guild

We left guild selection up to a first come-first serve method, where each player got to chose from the remaining guilds as they arrived. Each player only chose a primary guild, the secondary guild was a surprise (except for me because I had to make the packs). It worked out where everyone was happy with their choice and eager to champion their chosen guild!

Jess and Sara-Jessyca choosing their guilds!
Here's the guild pairings and their champions:

Angie: Orzhov-Selesnya
Randy: Dimir- Golgari
Katie: Rakdos-Boros
Julian: Izzet-Gruul
Unna: Golgari-Orzhov
Jess: Selesnya-Simic
Sara-Jessyca: Simic-Azorius
JT: Azorius-Dimir
Ty: Gruul-Rakdos
Tim: Boros-Izzet

 Step 10: Crack Packs and Build Decks

Next up it was time to get down to business. We passed out supplies and everyone got to work cracking packs and building decks.

The central land pool and lots of card sorting!

We made it clear that no one was constrained to their chosen guild colors, no matter what they chose to play they would be earning points for the guild they chose. But with the guild packs loaded up with fun extras and guild leaders, most players used their primary guild colors as the basis for their decks.

More cracking packs and making tough decisions!

Some of the more experienced deckbuilders (Ty, Tim, and Julian) we super helpful in making sure everyone was able to get a fun deck put together. It was a friendly atmosphere, with everyone excitedly showing their awesome pulls and sharing advice on deckbuilding.

Ty was more familiar with the set and helped several of us finish up our builds!

Step 11: Play Magic!

Decks were built and it was time to play! We used slips of paper to randomly pair up players by their guilds. Each round was a single game because of time issues and folks wanting to play as many different people as possible. After each round, we would do a group tally of guild points. It was sometimes fun to see your guild get points even if you lost a match, and we all had a good time watching how the points tallied up each round.

Julian and Randy square off, Izzet vs Dimir.... Randy looks a little concerned for his guild's secret plans!

Step 12: Cake Break!

"So I'll cast stab wound on your creature, extorting for 3..."

At one point during the night,  I was serious about my game, championing the Orzhov guild, slowly extrorting my opponent to death (as we Orzhov are prone to doing) when I realized we were the only ones still playing in the round, and more importantly there were a bunch of people standing behind me. I turned around and was suddenly surprised with an amazing coconut orange cake and a lovely rendition of "happy birthday!"
Yep, I'm 34. Also, it's hard to play Magic with people singing at you!!! But, cake!

At this point we all took a cake break and enjoyed some delicious cake, chatted about our matches, and got ready for some more spell slinging. Even planeswalkers gotta power up!

Step 13: Checking in on the little one!

This was the first time my 7 year old had played a bunch of games of Magic in a row, so I went to check in on her progress. It was late, she was playing with a bunch of new cards and paired against skilled experienced players, and I wanted to see how her morale was holding up.

Turns out she was doing pretty well, rocking her Rakdos-Boros deck with style!

Not only did she play well and have a good attitude throughout, she even won a few games! We talked a lot beforehand about the fact that she was a less experienced player than most and that she may have a tough time winning matches, but she was stoked for the challenge and didn't want any grown-ups "pulling punches". This kid has big dreams, wanting to practice and starting playing at Friday Night Magic Events, and maybe even a Grand Prix someday! I'm happy to say she has yet to go on tilt over a losing streak, remaining ever-optimistic and playing for the love of the game!

Moments like this really fuel her inner fire! Fiero!
I was so proud of little Katie holding her own, demonstrating awesome sportsmanship, and having an amazing time even though it was waaaay past her bedtime. She played all 5 rounds and hung in there until about 3:30AM, the latest she's ever stayed up, and after a long school day! That's determination! 

She also made it a point to high five or handshake each opponent, and I want to give a big thanks to all my awesome friends who helped Katie learn and be a part of this event. I can't think of a better birthday present than playing Magic with some awesome folks and watching my daughter loving playing my favorite game!
Oh yeah! Good Game!

Step 14: Results!

We played 3 rounds with everyone participating before people had to start heading home (it was around midnight when round 3 wrapped up). We decided the standings after 3rd round were the “official” rankings since that's what included all players.

Tournament board after 3 rounds

The totals were:
Selesnya: 15
Orzhov and Golgari: 14
Gruul: 11
Rakdos and Simic: 9
Izzet, Azorius, and Boros: 5
Dimir: 3

Tight race there, but the Selesnya Conclave pulled ahead by a fraction, crowning its champion Jess as the winner!
Selesnya's Champion Jess, with her shiny Maze's End Promo card!

As a side note, I'd like to point out that ALL three of my guilds were the at the top of the rankings! After a few players headed out, the hardcore late-nighters played two more additional rounds... taking us until 3:30 in the morning! Here's a snapshot of the final rankings, but these are a bit skewed since the Selesnya and Simic champions had left!

Final standing with all rounds tallied!

So the end of the night rankings had Golgari, Gruul, and Orzhov taking the top three slots, with Dimir coming in last. Sometimes secret plans and devious plots don't play out the way you hope!
Awesome night of playing Magic with my friends = best birthday present :)
Even though I wasn't the official winner, my sweet Katie made me a special trophy as a birthday present to commemorate the event, and I got to keep all the cards so I feel like I scored a treasure trove of awesome new cards to play with. All in all my Dragon's Maze treasures included 7 of the maze runners, (with three copies of Emmara Tandris... well, at least the card is pretty) I also got a Voice of Resurgence, Progenitor Mimic, Deathbridge Chant, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Legion's Initiaitve, a regular Maze's End, two shocklands, plus lots of fun fuse cards and new guild toys to build commander decks with!

Step 15: Share!

So, that's how we came together and enjoyed some awesome games of Magic and the conclusion of the Return to Ravnica block. Please leave us a comment, we'd love to hear from you!

  • How did you celebrate the release of Dragon's Maze? 
  • What do you think of our wacky casual scoring system? 
  • Which Guild came out on top in your tournaments or prereleases?

In a couple weeks we're hosting a Modern Masters Draft and I'll post a rundown of that event, including what kind of draft archetypes we discover and any awesome storm-dredge-fairie-giant-suspend-splice-evoke-artifact shenanigans we manage to pull off!